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The 185 acres that make up Schlitz Audubon Nature Center has a history much longer than the more than four decades it has been a place for environmental education.
Originally a forested area, this property was inhabited by American Indian people, and specifically the Menominee, until 1836. From 1837 to 1890 it was inhabited by European immigrants from present-day Germany and the Netherlands, as well as their descendants. The land was clear cut to provide lumber and firewood for Milwaukee and began to be used for agriculture. Between 1885-1902 the farmsteads were acquired and condensed into a single Uihlein Schlitz family property. Named for its proximity to the brewery, the land was called “Nine Mile Farm,” and became the pasture where the draft horses rested from pulling beer wagons. We continue to learn more about the Center’s distant past by participating in the Milwaukee Community Archaeology Project.
Following Prohibition, as the widespread use of automobiles became commonplace, the Schlitz Brewery no longer needed horses or a place for them to rest. For decades, the property remained in possession of the brewery until it was deeded to the Schlitz Foundation in 1952. The parcel served as a recreational area for Schlitz employees, scouting groups, sporting groups, and the Uihlein family.
In the early 1960’s, the company considered selling the property. Potential options for the land included condominiums, a men’s-only golf course, and an opportunity to expand Doctors Park. Dorothy Vallier, along with Monnie Messinger, Winnie Woodmansee, and Charlotte Zieve, brought the community together to advocate that the land be used as a center for environmental education.
In 1971, the property was donated to the National Audubon Society. Since this time, the Center has been locally managed and funded through a lease and operational agreements with the National Audubon Society. While Schlitz Audubon is independent of National Audubon and is locally supported, the two organizations remain partners in forwarding the missions of bird and land conservation.
In 1973, Schlitz Audubon Nature Center opened to the public five days a week. In the following years, school groups began visiting the Center to learn about natural science from staff Naturalists. In 1974, staff and volunteers began conducting bird surveys, the start of the treasure trove of historic bird population data we have today. To create wildlife habitat and enhance education, Center staff excavated Mystery Lake in 1987. The next year we started our Raptor Program, with two Screech Owls and a Great Horned Owl, and in 2006 began bringing our birds to Wisconsin State Fair. Today we travel throughout the region educating about birds of prey.
In 2003 we completed our current building, the Dorothy K. Vallier Environmental Learning Center. That fall, we opened the first Nature Preschool in Wisconsin and since then have helped young children develop their connection with the natural world. Today we continue to proudly participate in the greater Milwaukee community, driven by a mission of conservation, environmental education, and nature experiences for all.
The spring of 2021 marked Schlitz Audubon’s 50th anniversary! See milestones from our first five decades and learn how you can join us in celebrating our legacy and our future!